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I wasn’t asked, but I’ll answer it anyway.

winegard-top-books

Like Emil Kirkegaard, I would also like to preface this by noting that the order in which I read any particular book is also very important in terms of its “influence” by me. For instance, Arthur Jensen’s The g Factor and Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate are both brilliant, but I read both of them after exposure to the Bell Curve and the HBDsphere, respectively, so neither can make the top 5 in terms of influence.

Moreover, this list is one of non fiction books. While there are several creative works that left a lasting impression on me – Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Camus’ The Stranger, and Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz come to mind – I find that I am more prone to be influenced by books densely populated with arguments and numbers.

So without further ado…

murray-herrnstein-bell-curve

1. Charles Murray & Richard Herrnstein – Bell Curve

This blockbuster of a book establishes the validity of g, its sociological relevance, the B/W gap in the US and its apparent intractability, and social consequences thereof.

As Steve Sailer and Charles Murray himself point out, twenty years on, the predictions made in Bell Curve have all panned out and the trends identified in it I don’t think it’s possible to conscientiously read this text and come away with the impression that IQ is an invalid or irrelevant concept, which is what the book is ultimately mainly about (even though the race/IQ chapter is what it has become infamous for, regardless of Murray & Herrnstein’s dozens of pages of disclaimers about it).

Quite apart from the IQ/sociology nexus, it is also my opinion that this is one of the key books you need to understand American society, along with David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed.

kurzweil-singularity-is-near

2. Ray Kurzweil – The Singularity is Near

The necessary disclaimers: Yes, I think Kurzweil’s method of willy-nilly exponential extrapolations are weak. Actually my criticisms go even deeper, since I view technological progress as being driven primarily by literate “smart fractions,” whereas Kurzweil models it as a function of existing technology.

Moreover, the reality test: As of 2017, it is clear that he was overoptimistic on timelines.

Still, when I read this in 2006 (straight out of high school), this was all extremely new and interesting to me.

And ultimately I remain a “singularitarian,” in the sense that I view the concept of a “technological singularity” and “transhumanism’ as both feasible and something that it worth striving towards (not least because the alternates are grim).

kennedy-rise-fall-great-powers

3. Paul Kennedy – The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

Covering 500 years of history in 500 pages, the historian Paul Kennedy exhaustively argues that the root of military and geopolitical power is heavily dependent on economic power, which supports the munitioning potential to equip gunpowder armies. From the Third Years War to the Cold War, it has been deeper pockets, not military elan or morale, that have won.

This seems pretty obvious and self-explanatory, but many people don’t seem to get it. Although there are now many things I would quibble with it – I read it sometime around 2004 – its basic framework is still one I use when thinking about Great Power geopolitics.

I can also say that this book formed the wellspring of my interest in economic history. Statistics about pig iron production in 1910 seem pretty boring until you start imagining it going into Dreadnoughts and Krupp guns.

korotayev-intro-cliodynamics

4. Andrey Korotayev, Artemy Malkov, and Daria Khaltourina – Introduction to Social Macrodynamics

Most people think of history as a narrative of names and dates interlinked with “happenings” that historians try to explain and contextualize. But there has been very little progress on the methods of history since Thucydides.

The cliodynamicists are to history what Alfred Marshall was to economics – they want to start modeling history.

Although the best known name in this field is Peter Turchin’s, I was more influenced by Korotayev et al’s Introduction to Social Macrodynamics, a very short but formula heavy book that laid the framework for how I have thought about pre-industrial Malthusian societies ever since. Here is my review of it.

One of my very long-term ambitions is to try to integrate psychometrics with cliodynamics models.

rushton-race-evolution-and-behavior

5. J. Philippe Rushton – Race, Evolution, and Behavior

This is still, perhaps, the book about the validity of HBD theory.

In this book, a huge mass of data (the endnotes comprise a substantial percentage of the overall text) is marshalled in support of r/K selection theory applied to the three great races of mankind.

When I read it sometime around I was already somewhat “redpilled” on this issue, but this book raised my confidence in the HBD view of reality from “likely” to “almost certain.”

There are several other good essentially “HBD” books – The 10,000 Year Explosion by Cochran and Harpending, or Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance for those hesitating about… wading into this subject, but this is the book I read first so as it’s the most influential so far as I’m concerned.

Here are some books that were close but missed out on the Top 5:

  • Charles Murray – Human Accomplishment
  • Samuel Huntington – The Clash of Civilizations
  • Kenneth Pomeranz – The Great Divergence
  • Yuri Slezkine – The Jewish Century
  • Nick Bostrom – Superintelligence, and his articles in general
  • Gregory Clark – A Farewell to Alms
  • Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel
  • Donella Meadows et al. – Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update
  • Jonathan Adair Turner – Just Capital

You might be asking why there are no Russia books, considering my repertoire ever since I started blogging.

The reason there are none is part of why I started blogging about Russia.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Books, Reading 
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I am basically at the stage where I find reading paper books to be almost physically painful. I can do it if I have to but given the choice I’d much rather do in my tablet’s Kindle app or even as a PDF file. I’d positively hate to be in an non-cyberpunk apocalypse by now.

ak-reading Apart from portability and ease of access across multiple platforms and devices, the thing that really seals the deal about ebooks is the ability to highlight and annotate, and crucially, the ability to get those highlights and annotations as an ordered list. I typically make dozens of highlights in literary works like fantasy or sci-fi, and hundreds and occasionally close to a thousand highlights in serious non-fiction works. I access these excerpts at this page on Amazon page and copy them over to an Evernote notebook (i.e. folder) that is exclusively dedicated to book excerpts.

This has some big advantages:

  • Very accessible, indexed, and searchable database of books whose usefulness for research grows in tandem with its overall size.
  • Makes the writing of book reviews much easier, especially if you wish to be detailed and include long quotes.
  • The contents of books you’ve read in the past, even those from several years back, can be easily recalled just by a quick skim through the highlights. This effect is well known in psychology where people start recalling massive amounts of information after getting a few relevant reminders.

That said, while this Kindle/Amazon system works, there are still some major spheres in which it falls short.

  • The biggest problem by far is that highlights are only supported for books bought from the Amazon store. This means that epubs, PDFs, etc, bought from other stores, or otherwise acquired from the Internet, cannot be highlighted and clipped over. This is of course an issue since many books aren’t available at Amazon. In particular, its national online storefronts remain remarkably fragmented for this day and age, and as such the foreign language selection is very meager. For instance, as regards Russian, pretty much only the classics and translations of popular Anglo crap like The Hunger Games is available. Neither of the two most recent high profile “political” books from France, The French Suicide by Zemmour or Submission by Houellebecq, are available in French on American Amazon.
  • One possible solution is to use a Kindle reader, read any epub, PDFs, etc. there, and copy over the highlighted material from MyClippings.txt. But reading PDFs on a Paperwhite is a pain, and besides obviously requires you to get a Kindle or a Paperwhite in the first place.
  • The Amazon/Kindle ecosystem can also be rigidly proprietary, and I’m not even talking of scandals like the “unbookening” of copies of 1984 that arise every now and then. Some books, especially the more academic ones, have a limit to how many highlights you can make. Once you pass that limit, you get the dreaded “You have reached the clipping limit for this item” and… that’s it. If you were doing serious research, congratulations, you’ve just lost a big chunk of your time for nothing (needless to say they don’t warn you of what those limits are before you buy your books). If you pay $25 for a book, you might feel that you should have the right to make as many highlights and annotations on them as you wish, and have full access to all of them. But publishers evidently disagree, on the principle that you do not “own” your ebooks in any real sense but just get regular access to them subject to certain conditions. Just as with overly intrusive DRM in video games, it hurts legitimate users way more than it hurts pirates. (Sure, the DRM in Kindle books can be stripped away using tools like Calibre, but then it would become an “outside” book and you would no longer be able to access its clippings on the web).
  • Despite being an established system, it continues to be infested with bugs, such as highlights and notes made while not connected to the Internet disappearing.
  • This is drifting into fantasyland, but I would also really like it if it were possible to highlight and clip tables, graphs, maps, images, etc. along with text. I mean it’s not like it’s hard to do manually – open up the required page, print screen, and copy over into GIMP or paint – but it is a lot more time consuming that way.

For PDF files and books, my very (substandard) solution right now is to read them and make highlights/annotations in Foxit. So far as I know, however, those highlights and annotations can’t be exported as a list of clippings.

I have not been able to find a good alternative to the Kindle/Amazon system. It does do 75% of what I want it to, which is to work across different platforms and supports highlights and annotations that can be exported. I would like to move over to something that does that plus supports “outside” files, including those in epub, fb2, and PDF format, and in the ideal scenario also supports the highlights and clipping of non-text media like tables and images.

Does something like this exist? Surely it should, in this information age… surely. But if so I haven’t found it.

If not, consider making something like this, if you have the programming skills. I’m sure there’s a market for such a product, since I can hardly be the only person obsessed with highlighting the books I read and using the accumulating clippings as a research tool.

How do you read ebooks and organize your highlights and annotations on them?

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: E-books, Reading 
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Over the past week I’ve completed one of my most significant projects, though I’m not megalomaniac enough to think it will present much interest to other people.

It’s a list of all the books I’ve ever read.

Well, not all of them, of course. That’s unrealistic. Since completing it, I’ve remembered a couple more. But I almost certainly got more than half, and perhaps as many as 75% of the real total. And forgetting a quarter or a third of them isn’t a great tragedy anyway, since me reckons that if you can’t recall reading a book, chances are it wasn’t worth your time in the first place.

Some interesting things have emerged out of this exercise. For instance, almost 40% of the books I’ve read have been sci-fi, fantasy, or speculative. Even so, they unfortunately don’t include Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem, and the Strugatsky brothers. My familiarity with the classics, especially in Russian, are extremely patchy. Self-help and self-improvement books total almost 10%, of which 2% are about poker. Here are the detailed stats:

English Russian Total
Non-Fiction 103 4 107 33.9%
Literature 54 5 59 18.7%
Fantasy & Sci-Fi 118 3 121 38.3%
Self-Improvement 29 0 29 9.2%
Total 304 12 316
96.2% 3.8%

Here is the same data, but by total page numbers:

English Russian Total
Non-Fiction 45,442 936 46,378 36.4%
Literature 15,544 2,000 17,544 13.8%
Fantasy & Sci-Fi 52,108 1,021 53,129 41.7%
Self-Improvement 10,311 0 10,311 8.1%
Total 123,405 3,957 127,362
96.9% 3.1%

I highly recommend everyone do something similar. It’s easy (Excel and Google suffice), and though it will take some time – two days, in my case – it will pay off by bringing back good reading memories that would otherwise indefinitely remain dormant, as well as provide an incentive to start systemically writing book reviews. If you can’t write a review about a book you’ve read, chances are the time you spent reading it was wasted. But by writing a review of a book, you decant and internalize the best of what it had to offer.

It will also enable you to make some useful macro-generalizations. For instance, this exercise really drove home the point that my classics base is very weak. Many giants of literature are missing entirely. This is something I can start working on remedying. Another advantage is that you can make some observations about what types of books make an impression, and what types don’t. For instance, I observed that the books that tended to garner 5 stars were usually shorter than others in the same series or broader category. I guess brevity really is the soul of wit.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.